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EU adopts global sanctions regime against human rights abusers

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The Council of the European Union on Monday adopted a regulation establishing a global human rights sanctions regime.

The new regime grants the EU a framework that will allow it to target individuals, entities and bodies – including state and non-state actors – responsible for, involved in or associated with serious human rights violations and abuses no matter where they occur.

“Such restrictive measures will provide for a travel ban applying to individuals, and the freezing of funds applying to both individuals and entities. In addition, persons and entities in the EU will be forbidden from making funds available to those listed, either directly or indirectly,” a press release by the council said.

Nabila Massrali, EU spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security, did not rule out the possibility of sanctioning the judiciary in a third country that allows show trials, torture and death sentences on trumped-up charges, according to The Brussels Times. 

“It is for the High Representative and/or member states to submit listing proposals to Council, and for the Council to decide on those listings by unanimity. This process, including who might or might not be considered for listings, is confidential,” Massrali was quoted by The Brussels Times as saying.

The framework for targeted restrictive measures applies to acts such as genocide, crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations or abusessuch as torture, slavery, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and detentions. Other human rights violations or abuses can also fall under the scope of the sanctions regime, where those violations or abuses are widespread and systematic.

The council also went through the latest developments in countries where sanctions are already in place or might be imposed in the future, such as Belarus and Turkey. 

“The Council was updated on the latest developments surrounding Turkey ahead of the European Council on 10-11 December. In this context the High Representative reported that Turkey had not shown a fundamental change of direction, and the European Council would assess how Turkey had responded to the EU’s offer for a constructive agenda and dialogue,” a press release on the meeting’s outcome read.

Landmark sanctions regime looms large in Turkey

“Turkey or people from Turkey could be included in a sanctions list,” İlke Toygür, an EU specialist, was quoted by Deutsche Welle’s Turkish edition as saying.

However, according to Toygür, the difference of opinion between member states on how to act toward Ankara’s human rights record can mean that Turkey could avoid being sanctioned. 

Toygür added that the outcome of the EU summit on Thursday, which will focus on Turkish drilling in contested waters of the eastern Mediterranean, will be telling as to whether or not EU members will unanimously agree to sanction Turkey.

“If things go south, they will use these tools to sanction Turkey,” Toygür stated.

Human rights violations are continuing in Turkey despite the lifting of a state of emergency in July 2018, the German government said in a report on its human rights policy adopted on December 2.

The report underlined the lack of judicial independence and freedom of speech in the country. 

“Everywhere we look, there are setbacks: The steadily growing number of conflicts, flights and displacements rob many people of their rights,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said after the cabinet approved the federal government’s new human rights report.

Reports by international bodies such as the United Nations and the EU point to a deterioration in the situation of human rights in Turkey, particularly after an attempted coup in 2016, as voices critical of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government face the risk of prosecution and arrest, while the independence of the judiciary is still in doubt.

According to DW, Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn branded Turkey’s judiciary as a “judiciary of the government,” saying that Ankara should stop prosecuting rights activists on terror charges.

According to the German government report, Turkey’s broad definition of terrorism “enables abusive interpretation” that leads to politically motivated cases which include the arrest of human rights activist Osman Kavala and tens of thousands of Gülen movement members.

The movement, inspired by Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen, is labeled by the ruling AKP as a terrorist organization and accused of masterminding the 2016 abortive putsch.

Despite the Gülen group’s denial of the allegations, Ankara has arrested more than 90,000 people and investigated in excess of 600,000 over links to the movement as part of a massive purge launched under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. 

Police raids targeting people accused of links to the self-exiled preacher continue on a regular basis.

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